By Judy Klein
In Hebrew, they are Ba’al or Ba’alat Tekiah (master of the blast). They are dedicated Jews who bring their skills to the sanctuary during the month of Elul, and the service they offer inspires awe and reverence each time it is performed.
In English, we call them shofar sounders, and we are always eager to participate, with the rest of the congregation, in the mitzvah of hearing the sounds of Tekiah, Teruah, Sh’varim and the final, mighty Tekiah Gedolah.
Kim Factor is an 18-year Ba’alat Tekiah at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth, of which she has been a member for 28 years. There are six or seven others in her group, she said, which is under the direction of Bruce Weiner.
Her years as a sounder began when she played “Taps” on her trumpet at a Jewish war veteran’s funeral and was drafted to sound the shofar. She continues, she said, because she loves the connection she makes to “the sounds that have resonated through the millennia.”
“It’s not on paper,” she said, “and it’s not a prayer. But the sound cries out that we are Jewish, and it’s a commitment from generation to generation.”
At Adat Chaverim in Plano, David Klein heads a group of six-10 shofar sounders that includes his oldest daughter, Eliana. When Klein’s father was alive, three generations of the family sounded their shofars for the holidays.
Klein became a Ba’al Tekiah in 1982 when he purchased a Yemenite shofar in Jerusalem while on a teen tour. Eliana, 15, a French horn player, purchased her Yemenite shofar two years ago in Jerusalem during a post-bat mitzvah trip. She earned the title of Ba’alat Tekiah that same year.
“I love having my own shofar,” she said. “I remember watching my father and my grandfather on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when I was little. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to join them.”
Father and daughter have found other uses for their shofars including calling campers at Greene Family Camp to Shabbat services. Klein also teaches congregants who own shofars how to coax sound from them, and he has taken his shofar to classrooms in synagogue preschools so the little ones can hear the sound as they learn about the holidays.
Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson boasts a 40-year Ba’al Tekiah. Mark Kreditor began playing the trumpet when the Men’s Club president at his childhood congregation gave him the instrument. Soon after his bar mitzvah, the synagogue’s shofar sounder moved out of the area and Kreditor got the job.
Today, he owns 15 shofars, and before the High Holy Days, he visits classrooms at Beth Torah and Ann and Nate Levine Academy so the young students can hear the sounds.
Both he and the synagogue take shofar sounding very seriously, says Kreditor, who joins between two and four other sounders at services. “The shofar is a major part of the message of the High Holy Days,” he said. “But it’s important to know that it’s not about the shofar player. It’s the sound that connects with the congregation.
“Tekiah is the wake-up call, a call to gather. It says ‘listen.’ In Sh’varim, we hear empathy for the cries of the world. Teruah is the actual repairing of the world, and Gedolah is most important as the conclusion.”
After 40 years, Kreditor is as serious as ever about sounding. He continues, he said, because he enjoys helping others to share in the joy and mitzvah of hearing the sound of his shofar.
Cary Rudberg is another 40-year Ba’al Tekiah. A year after his bar mitzvah, he was assisting at a youth service at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas when he was told he was to be a shofar sounder. Morris Agronoff, the congregation’s Torah reader and Ba’al Tekiah, loaned him a shofar for the service and when he returned it, Agronoff commented that he heard Rudberg had done a good job. So, at age 15, the young man began sounding on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Although he owns four to six shofars, one that is not his is very special to him. Owned by the Kaufman family, it was purchased in Israel. Twenty-five years ago, Rudberg said, Stanley Kaufman invited him to play it because he wanted to hear the sound and couldn’t play it himself. Rudberg played it for Kaufman, who then offered it on loan for the holidays. Since then, it has been a continuing annual loan.
Now in his 40th year as Ba’al Tekiah, Rudberg and his shofar can be found from the 1st of Elul through the High Holy Days at the daily 7 a.m. service.
“As a kid,” he said, “I was honored to be asked to sound the shofar. I worked hard and I wasn’t embarrassed. Now I know that for me it’s an honor, and for the congregation it’s a mitzvah.”